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Scaffold the Argument Paper: Thesis Statements and Outlines

A series of assignments that will guide students through the process of research and writing

Best Practices and Guidelines for Thesis Statements

Best Practices and Guidelines for Thesis Statements

After conducting some initial research, it’s time to start refining the student’s initial research question into a thesis statement. It's also important to stress that your thesis should be the product of the initial research you've conducted. The thesis is not the research question that drove the student's initial searches. Instead, the research should inform their argument paper's position. Below are some links and handouts about thesis development you can share with your students.

If your students need more guidance in creating a strong thesis, you can utilize a prewriting activity to get your students generating ideas for their topic. Prewriting can help student transform their research into workable ideas for an argument paper by allowing them to explore what they've gleaned from their research. Below are some helpful links about prewriting. A couple of these activities have also been developed into an in-class critical thinking activity (which includes a follow-up assignment) or just an assignment.

Best Practices and Guidelines

Best Practices and Guidelines for Outlines

An outline is a good way to organize to help your students organize thoughts before writing the argument paper. An outline is a plan of attack, and having one can make the process of writing seem less daunting. Below are some helpful resources to share with your students about how to outline and what a completed outline might end up looking like.

Possible Assignment

Listing Worksheet - Thesis Statement Assignment

Listing is a prewriting method where you first list terms from your research, then group them, and label those groups. Students write about the groups and labels, which becomes a draft of a possible thesis statement. This should be assigned after students have conducted substantial research and are ready to begin the writing process.

It's recommended that use this assignment or the freewriting critical thinking activity, but not both. 

Assignments for Outlines

Assigning an Outline

Assigning an outline is a great way to ensure your students are prepared and organized for the actual process of writing the argument paper.

  • You can simply discuss some of the best practices detailed above, including the sample outline from Purdue OWL, and have students create their own as an assignment.
  • If you're pressed for time, this could be a good opportunity to utilize a peer review.

Critical Thinking Activity

Freewrite Thesis Statement Think-Pair-Share

  1. This activity should be conducted after students have conducted some substantial research on their topics. Before class, have students read their research articles. 
  2. In-class: set a timer for five minutes (Googling 'timer' will bring up a helpful free stopwatch from Google). Instruct students to write about their topics. They should not stop for the entirety of the five minutes, nor should they worry about grammar or spelling.It's ok to write 'I don't know, I don't know' while they gather their thoughts. It might be helpful to show an example of a freewrite
  3. After the five minutes are up, have students pair up and trade their freewrites with a partner. The partner reads it, and highlights or marks down whatever ideas stand out. Think your partner has a great idea, or should elaborate more? Make a note on their freewrite. Spend a couple minutes doing this, then have the partners 'share' with each other what they marked down, and why.
  4. You can repeat the freewriting activity if you have enough time in class - this is called 'looping'. On the second freewrite, the students should focus their freewrite on some of the concepts that stood out on their initial freewrite. They can trade with a different partner to get a new set of eyes on their thoughts.
  5. As a follow-up, students can take their freewrites and draft a possible thesis statement from the ideas that emerged during the activity.